Party like it’s 1888! On February 2nd, treat yourself and your family to the 30th Annual Ice Harvest Festival at the Hanford Mills Museum. You’ll take part in a good ol’ fashioned ice harvest while enjoying ice fishing, sleigh rides, blacksmith demonstrations, and hands-on art lessons. Then warm yourself up at the bonfire or at the soup and chili buffet.

Ice was considered an important “winter crop” in the days before refrigeration. Enterprising ice harvesters would cut blocks about eight inches deep out of the frozen surfaces of lakes and ponds and store them in saw dust for months. Then, when temperatures began to rise, they would sell their ice to families and businesses who needed it to keep their food fresh. Amazingly, people would even throw the huge blocks of ice into rivers and arrange to have an associate pull out the smaller, slightly melted blocks near cities downstream where you could make a pretty penny selling ice in the sweltering summer months.

It was the otherwise somber Quakers who introduced ice cream made with winter-harvested ice in the British colonies. It quickly caught on as a festive and expensive delicacy. Ice cream was sold in shops in New York City and other big cities. One summer George Washington famously spent $200 – the equivalent of over $5,000 in today’s money – on this delicious dessert.

The Hanford Mills Museum is located in East Meredith, NY, approximately half an hour from the Colonial Motel in Grand Gorge. Open for tours in the warmer weather, the museum is a historic landmark for being one of the last intact nineteenth century mills in the state. Please see their website for more details.